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Egypt’s First Woman Ship Captain Marwa Elselehdar Blamed For Suez Canal Blockage Despite Not Being On Boat


Illustration for article titled Egypt's First Woman Ship Captain Marwa Elselehdar Blamed For Suez Canal Blockage Despite Not Being On Boat

Photo: Mahmoud Khaled (Getty Images)

The saga of the Ever Given was a beautiful one while it lasted—is there anything funnier than a large boat getting stuck in the narrow Suez Canal?—but it’s had lasting supply chain effects that are pretty miserable. And that’s not even as bad as the flack that one woman—Marwa Elselehdar—is getting for a role she didn’t even play in the event.

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Elselehdar, 29, is Egypt’s first-ever female ship captain, and when the Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal, she realized that people were placing her at the center of the fiasco. People were using social media to share a doctored screenshot of an Arab Times headline that claimed she was at the helm of the ship at the time it was stuck. It appeared that the headline had been altered from a March 22 profile of Elselehdar praising her successes. You can see the doctored headline here.

The news came as a shock to Elselehdar, who was working as a first mate on the Aida IV vessel near Alexandria, which is hundreds of miles away.

And that wasn’t all. People began making Twitter accounts with her name claiming responsibility and furthers spreading the false rumors.

“I felt that I might be targeted maybe because I’m a successful female in this field or because I’m Egyptian, but I’m not sure,” she told the BBC this weekend.

As you can imagine, piloting a ship isn’t exactly a realm rife with equality. The International Maritime Organization notes that only two percent of the world’s seafarers are women—and 94 percent of those women work in the cruise industry.

So, it makes sense, unfortunately, that Elselehdar has received backlash for her very presence. She was the first woman to enroll in Egypt’s naval academy and captained the Aida IV when it was the very first vessel to traverse the newly-expanded Suez Canal in 2015.

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She told the BBC the following:

Onboard, they were all older men with different mentalities, so it was difficult not to be able to find like-minded people to communicate with. It was challenging to go through this alone and be able to overcome it without affecting my mental health.

“People in our society still don’t accept the idea of girls working in the sea away from their families for a long time. But when you do what you love, it is not necessary for you to seek the approval of everyone.

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And in a video she shared on social media, Elselehdar had many other strong words:

Frankly, when I read the news, I was upset, because I worked really hard to reach the position I have reached, and anyone who works in this field knows how much effort a person has made over the years to reach this rank.

One has to spend many years at sea, studying and taking exams before reaching this level.

I graduated in 2013 and got an MBA, then I was promoted from second officer to first officer, and now I am a captain.

So, it is difficult to see that someone is trying to cancel all this effort and credit it to himself, or accuse me of being a failure or that I neglect my work.

Believe me that I am not trying to promote myself, but it is not nice for someone to speak in your name in a way that has nothing to do with your personality, your upbringing, your career or anything else.

It’s my reputation, and I definitely don’t want it damaged like this.

So, for the record, Elselehdar was not behind the wheel of the Ever Given when it blocked the Suez Canal.

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